1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Denmark leads Europe in tackling food waste

Irene Hell, CopenhagenJuly 18, 2016

More than one third of all food is spoiled or squandered. Led by an activist with a passion for food, Denmark has been working intensively on solutions. Eliminating "UFOs" is just one thing people can do to help.

Pile of "ugly" fruits and vegetables (Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Medina

"Food is love. If we throw away food, we throw away love," says Selina Juul, a passionate 36-year-old Danish activist. The work of her non-governmental organization Stop Wasting Food (Stop Spild Af Mad) has contributed to a major milestone: Denmark has managed to reduce food waste by a quarter since 2010.

In September 2016, the Danish government will establish a subsidy pool for projects that save food, with funding of more than 5 million Danish kroner (about 670,000 euros).

For the environment, reduction of food waste is an urgent cause: agriculture produces nearly one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses more than a third of the planet's arable land, and consumes 70 percent of all freshwater used globally.

With the world population expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, how to feed all these mouths remains an open question. Reduction of food waste helps to prevent potential devastating impacts to the climate, and water and land resources, from a massive increase in agricultural production.

And the "green kingdom" is taking the lead. Initiatives to reduce food waste combine two great passions of the Danish: to do good for the planet and to save money.

Boxes with free food for "Taste the waste" initiative in Netherlands (Photo: Anne-Sophie Brändlin/DW)
Instead of throwing it away food is offered here for freeImage: DW/A. S. Brändlin

Putting value on waste

"Garbage is actually not garbage," Juul insists. "Reducing it is the key to the future survival of human civilization," she tells DW.

Juul's work is backed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which reports that globally, one third of all food is spoiled or squandered.

In addition to causing a loss of $940 billion (850 billion euros), this also generates 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions - equal to the emissions of a large country.

The FAO calls this "an excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry." The agency condemns throwing away food as also a waste of the labor, water, energy, land and other resources that went into producing that food.

New protocol to cut food waste

"There's simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted," Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, tells DW.

Working with numerous United Nations, European Union and non-governmental entities, the World Resources Institute has spearheaded a new strategy: the first-ever global food waste measurement standard.

The Danish government announced that it would back this new "food loss and waste protocol" during the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) in Copenhagen this past June.

Architects of the Food Loss and Waste Protocol (FLW) at 3GF in Copenhagen, from left to right: Craig Hanson, Global Director of Food, Forests & Water; Michiel Kernkamp, CEO Nestlé Nordic; Dr. Liz Goodwin, CEO at WRAP; Dr. Toine Timmermans, Wageningen UR; Selina Juul, Stop Wasting Food; Dr. Ren Wang, Assistant Director-General FAO; H.E. Kristian Jensen, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denmark; Dr. Andrew Steer, President World Resources Institute (Photo: DW/I. Hell)
Juul (center) and Steer (far right) with other architects of the "food loss and waste protocol" at 3GF in CopenhagenImage: DW/I. Hell

"At the moment, food production is very destructive," Steer said. Steer and his institute developed the protocol under the mantra "what can be measured can be managed."

"It is just like what we did with the greenhouse gas protocol 10 years ago," Steer explains. "To succeed in cutting food waste in half, we must take a systemic approach."

International coalitions

The World Resources Institute has managed to rally major entities to the food waste reduction cause - including the Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world's largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, with combined sales of 2.5 trillion euros.

The World Farmer's Organization and various governments also stand behind the UN Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste and reduce food loss globally by 2030.

View of the city of Copenhagen (Photo: DW/I. Hell)
Although small, Denmark has more initiatives to stop food waste than any other European countryImage: DW/I. Hell

Denmark has also joined these coalitions.

"Waste makes everybody poorer," said Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs Kristian Jensen. This "new strong alliance between public and private actors will provide an efficient answer to the global challenge of food loss and waste," he said during the 3GF in Copenhagen.

Numerous strategies

Ever more Danish supermarkets have "stop food waste areas," with food close to its expiration date at very cheap prices. And "ugly" potatoes are going to use in salads.

The startup Too Good To Go tackles unsold meals.

An app pairs customers with restaurants and bakeries about to close, allowing them to fill a box with food at knock-down prices.

Juul highlights another effort: to eliminate "UFOs."

"Every second Dane had a UFO, a 'unidentified frozen object,' in their freezer," Juul says. "So we ran a campaign for consumers to once a month eat your UFOs."

'Food is love'

Denmark, with only 5.7 million people, has more initiatives against food waste than any other European country. This has largely been attributed to the group Stop Wasting Food.

Juul, its founder, is already a national icon. She was granted the Womenomics Influencer Award 2016, is included in the Who's Who of Denmark, and was named Dane of the Year for 2014.

Selina Juul, founder of Stop Wasting Food, in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo: DW/I. Hell)
"Food is love": Selina Juul cares about food Image: DW/I. Hell

Armed with a green apron and an irresistible passion for food, the young activist has managed to elate millions of Danes.

"It is a very bottom-up initiative," Juul tells DW. "We mobilize the people, then the people mobilize the industry and the supermarkets, cafeterias and restaurants."

"It's like a spiral - it's growing and growing and growing," Juul says.

Juul and her group plan to start work in other countries as well. Juul's dream is that caring for food can become a tool for world peace.

"When it comes to food waste, no matter if you are rich or poor, left- or right-wing - no matter which color, nation or religion - people can agree," she says.

"Food is really the one cause that unites people. Food is love."